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A Guide to Staying on Budget on Holiday

Brought to you by: The Frugal Buzz On November 14, 2011 Under Christmas

Don’t Go Financially Overboard This Holiday Season; take the Holiday Challenge to Stay on Budget.

It’s easy during the holiday season to get carried away. There are so many things to spend money on. In addition to simply wanting the holiday to be perfect there are demands on your finances. These demands include but are not limited to:

• Family pressures and expectations. Between children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins it’s enough to break even the most balanced budget. For example, you have a large family and every year you get together to exchange gifts. That can mean you’re buying twenty or more gifts and that’s just for your family.

• Work gifts. Do you buy for your boss? What about your co-workers? Do you do an office gift exchange? You may feel the pressure to spend big to make a good impression. If you’re married, your spouse may have to buy gifts for work too.

• Parties. Work parties, friend’s parties and even your own holiday party require spending. You need hostess gifts, holiday attire and maybe a dish to pass. It all adds up.

• Travel. Many families travel great distances during the holidays to be together. Holiday travel is expensive and can quickly break the family budget.

• Decorating. Decorating for the holidays is a tradition for many. You don’t have to have a Griswold style Christmas to spend a fortune either. A tree, candles, ornaments, wreath and other small items can add up quickly.

• The desire to give. You may feel pressure from your own desire to give. The holiday season brings out our desire to be generous. However, if the budget doesn’t allow it, it can be a stressful and unhappy time.

This blog series is designed to help you overcome and manage the holiday pressures and expectations to spend. We take a two pronged approach. In the first post we discuss how to manage and change holiday expectations. In the second we take a look at a number of ideas to have a great holiday on a budget.

The holidays are a wonderful celebratory season. When you’re able to enjoy them stress free and stay on budget it can be the best holiday season ever.

Let’s get started!



 

Managing Holiday Expectations

One of the best ways to not go overboard this holiday season is to assess expectations for the season. You’ll want to take a look both at the expectations of those around you as well as your own.

In this first section we take a look at four elements of managing holiday expectations. We’ll look at:

• Find your own meaning for the holiday season
• Assessing your family’s and friend’s expectations and having that all important discussion.
• The Power of “No”. (You really don’t have to say yes to everything)
• And finally we’ll help you begin to create a holiday budget.

Finding Your Own Meaning for the Holiday Season

The first step to managing holiday expectations is to take a look at what the holiday’s mean to you. For many the holidays mean:

• Time together with family
• A time to connect with God, spirituality and your religion
• A time to spend showing appreciation and gratitude
• Parties with friends and family
• Smiles on children’s faces when they’re opening gifts
• Traditions
• Food

Make a list of what the holidays mean to you. Consider looking back and remembering the last holiday season or your favorite holiday memories. What made them so memorable? What makes the holidays special for you?

You may also want to consider what values and experiences you want to hold onto each holiday season? Often, people work very hard to create the “perfect” holiday and the end up having a terrible experience. Their expectations of perfection fall short and they forget to look at what the holidays really mean to them.

Once you’ve made that list of what the holidays mean to you and what you want them to mean this year and in the future, you may begin to create a plan to make that happen. You can set priorities for this holiday season and create a budget that reflects your priorities.

For example, if your priority this holiday is to get together with your family, then your budget can prioritize travel expenses. You can then create an appropriate spending limit for gifts. Next we’ll take a look at how to manage the expectations of others.
Assessing Your Family’s and Friend’s Expectations and Having That All Important Discussion

Just because your expectations are set and understood doesn’t mean friend’s and family’s expectations are going to match. In fact, if you have young children chances are their expectations, at least the one’s they’ll voice, are going to be centered on gifts. As a parent you want to get your children everything on their wish list.

However, you probably can’t afford everything on their list. And your friends and family likely have different budgets to work with. Some may have more to spend while others have less. The next step to a budget friendly holiday is to have a conversation with those closest to you. This conversation may feel difficult. Here are a few tips to make it a bit easier.

When talking to adult family members…

• Ask what’s most important to them about the holiday season. You may find that your priorities match.
• Express your desire to stay on budget this holiday and what’s most important to you.
• Ask if you can sit down and find a way to work together to come up with a plan that makes everyone happy.
• Consider options or solutions before you have the discussion.

Discussion example,

“I’d like to spend time with you this holiday season and I know you really enjoy the gift exchange. Because travel is expensive I’d like to find a way to stay on budget. Do you think we can figure out a way to make it work for both of us? What about setting a price limit of ten dollars or drawing names this holiday season?”

When talking to children…

• Let them know what the holidays mean to you
• Ask them what the holidays mean to them
• Let them know you’re on a budget (or Santa’s on a budget) and to choose one present they want the most. Consider giving them a price limit so they don’t ask for a pony or a trip to the moon.

When talking to co-workers…
• Consider suggesting a group gift or a secret Santa type set up to help everyone stay on budget.

It can be difficult to start the conversation. However, this step is very important. Once everything is out in the open it reduces stress. You may find that your friends and family feel exactly the same way. They may be very grateful to you for bringing it up.
The Power of “No” (You really don’t have to say yes to everything).

This may be the most difficult aspect of the holiday season. The overwhelming pressure to say yes to everything. You agree to bring a dish to pass. You agree to attend a party. You agree to help your child pay for gifts for their tennis team. You agree to host a holiday party. You agree to buy gifts for everyone in your department at work.

When you’re under this much pressure two things happen:
You end up busting your budget because of all the unexpected purchases.
You’re so tired and stressed you say to heck with the budget and just buy what’s easy (which is often more expensive.)
The key to sane holiday spending is to learn to say no.

You don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to buy everything on your family’s wish list and you don’t have to go to every part. In the next section we’ll show you how to create a budget. Part of your budget will be allocated to unexpected holiday expenses because they do happen. Setting aside money for the unexpected will help you decide what you want to say yes to and what you don’t want to say yes to.

Here are some additional tips:
• Ask yourself if you want to say yes? If you do, why do you want to say yes? Are you saying yes to please someone or because you really want to participate?
• Ask yourself if you have the time to participate? For example, do you have time to host a party or bake cookies for your daughter’s classroom?
• Ask yourself if you have the money to participate?

If you struggle saying no to people consider practicing on the small things. Then when it comes time to say no to something bigger, you’ll have experience. Additionally, remember that when you say no to someone you don’t have to give them an explanation. A simple, “I’m sorry I can’t do that this year,” should suffice.

Once you’ve established expectations for yourself and your friends and family, it’s time to build a budget that supports those expectations.

Creating a Holiday Budget

The secret to not overspending this holiday season is to create a budget. This will give you control over your money. You’ll know how much you have to spend and you can base your decisions on your budget and your priorities.
Holiday Expense
Budgeted Cost
Actual Cost

Priority #1 Holiday Travel

Air fare

Hotel

Car rental
Priority #2 Gifts

Joe’s gift

Jane’s gift

Bob’s gift

Sample categories might include:
 
• Gifts for Family
• Gifts for Friends
• Gifts for Neighbors
• Teacher gifts
• Coworkers
• Holiday Tips for Service People
• Charity
• Cards
• Postage Stamps
• Home Decorations
• Flowers 
• Christmas Tree and Decorations
• Baking Supplies Food
• Party Supplies

Once you have your budget established, it’s time to take a look at how you can make it work. You may be looking at your budget and wondering what on earth you’re going to be able to find at the price you can afford.

Next:  A plan to help you come up with great ideas to save money on gifts, food, decorations and more.

Frugally yours, Mary

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